Why Is the Linux Mascot a Penguin?


Linux Penguin Mascot Tux up close
Larry Ewing and The GIMP

If you’re a fan of Linux, you might have observed “Tux,” the welcoming penguin mascot for the functioning method. But why a penguin, and why Tux? We’ll explore the background powering the semi-aquatic chook mascot with a small help from Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux himself.

Linus Torvalds Loves Penguins

Not like commercial working units backed by lots of million-dollar marketing and advertising strategies, early variations of Linux did not have any formal branding. Linux begun as a hobbyist venture by Finnish university student Linus Torvalds in 1991, and a group of volunteers about the entire world made and maintained it in its early several years. So when developing Linux’s public impression, its builders went about it in a really informal way: by discussing it on the Linux-Kernel group email listing.

Of class, 1 person’s voice—Torvalds—carried substantially a lot more body weight than the other people, and that voice beloved a specific kind of animal. In the early 1990s, Torvalds normally playfully referenced penguins on the mailing list. What was his attraction to the birds as a opportunity logo?

“Penguins are simply just exotic more than enough to be attention-grabbing, but properly-known plenty of to not be obscure,” Torvalds instructed How-To Geek in an email.

In unique, Torvalds’s appreciate of penguins slipped into legend soon after a 1995 job interview with Linux Journal, wherever Torvalds stated staying bitten by a penguin while viewing a zoo in Australia.

“The most interesting elements of Australia weren’t pcs at all, but the little and furry (and in some cases feathered) animals there. I got bitten by a penguin in Canberra (Killer Penguins Strike Yet again), but it was a really compact and timid just one.”

The penguin bite only appeared to speed up Torvalds’ playful fascination in the birds. On April 29, 1996, Torvalds introduced the 1.3.97 release of the Linux kernel and jokingly termed it the “Killer Penguin” launch.

But continue to, Torvalds claims the penguin bite episode was not the key supply of Tux: “I liked penguins prior to also,” Torvalds informed How-To Geek. “It’s real that I was bitten by (a incredibly timid) penguin at Australia Nationwide Zoo, but I assume a person of the sources of inspiration—and possibly a a lot more important one—was Aardman Studios.”

How Tux Took Form

By early 1996, the thought of an formal brand for Linux experienced been floating around for several years. Men and women had created numerous mock-ups and fancy, ray-traced “Linux” letters with the graphics know-how available at the time—and someone even attempted to deliver a platypus into the mix.

The final 1996 Tux created by Larry Ewing.
The last 1996 Tux established by Larry Ewing. Larry Ewing and The GIMP

On May well 1, 1996, an individual on the Linux-Kernel mailing checklist shared nonetheless yet another impression of a probable Linux emblem, and in response, Linux contributor Alan Cox requested for an graphic of a penguin—a reference to Torvalds’ obsession—in boxing gloves punching out the BSD Daemon.

Soon right after that, Torvalds offered the electronic mail record with an image of a claymation penguin created by Aardman Animations, the studio guiding Wallace and Gromit. “[Aardman] experienced a few of claymation penguins (e.g. ‘The Wrong Trousers,’)” Torvalds tells How-To Geek. “Although that penguin was a lot less of a ‘happy penguin in repose following taking in a whole lot of herring,’ and far more of a Bond-movie supervillain penguin.”

Image of an early Tux from Larry Ewing and and Aardman Animations penguin that inspired the final Tux
The authentic pugilist Tux by artist Larry Ewing (left) contrasted with the playful Aardman Animations penguin favored by Linus Torvalds (ideal). Larry Ewing, Aardman Animations

Programmer Larry Ewing (who worked on The GIMP graphics editor project) took up the primary obstacle from Cox and drew a penguin in boxing gloves. Others submitted penguin artwork as properly. Torvalds made available constructive feedback on the tries at penguin drawings produced by some others so considerably, recommending a new approach with a gentler, contented penguin “stuffed to its brim with herring.”

Ewing went again to the drawing board. Immediately after a multi-step approach refined above time in the GIMP graphic editor—from a black and white sketch to a colourful illustration with shading—Ewing made what we now consider of as the archetypal “Tux” penguin. It fulfilled Torvalds’ requirements of a plump, non-aggressive, contented animal—and the impression trapped.

Tux received its title from James Hughes on June 10, 1996, when he wrote on the Linux-Kernel mailing record that it stood for “(T)orvolds (U)ni(X).” Tux, generally shorter for “tuxedo,” is also a reference to the reality that some species penguins look like they are donning tuxedos simply because of their feather coloration.

Not everyone beloved the penguin. Some on the mailing record were being unhappy with the animal decision (“Please, something but penguins,”) and anyone else described that the “Penguin” title was taken by an unrelated utility. But Torvalds’ voice and playful influence received out, and in excess of time, Ewing’s refined drawing grew to become the official graphic of Tux, the mascot of Linux.

The Penguin Legend Continues

Considering that the 1990s, the lore of Tux (and Torvalds’ penguin zoo encounter) have only grown. By 2007, the zoo in Canberra in which Torvalds was first nibbled by a penguin experienced erected a indication commemorating the episode, mentioning “It is our perception that the unique Tux is still housed in this enclosure.”

Interestingly, Torvalds claims that, canonically, Tux is not a real penguin at all. “The Linux penguin is not just anatomically proper,” he explained to us. “It’s incredibly considerably a plush toy form of factor (and in actuality, persons finished up creating plush toys dependent on it, and not just for Linux conferences).” This may possibly be why folks mail him plush penguins all the time, as illustrated in this YouTube movie.

In a mid-2000s e-mail that will get frequently quoted on the net, Torvalds mentioned, “Don’t consider the penguin much too very seriously. It is supposed to be type of goofy and enjoyment, that’s the entire point.” He went on to say that Linux is supposed to be goofy and entertaining as very well. He required to make guaranteed that Linux did not get alone also severely.

“I needed a pleased cuddly brand, not a corporate one particular,” Torvalds suggests these days. “And I imagine the penguin worked actually perfectly.”


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